Ahmedabad part 3: Rabari cattle herding, dancing and thali eating

On arrival back to Ahmedabad after my trip to Pethapur about 3pm, I was exhausted and hungry, I hadn’t yet eaten that day. The bus dropped me off near Ellis bridge, so I walked over in the direction of the lovely Green house restaurant in the House of MG. I encountered the SEWA (Self-employed Women’s association) on the way though, which I had been meaning to visit, so stopped and had a look. As you do, I bumped into a girl from Sheffield (also my birthplace). I told her I’d just been to visit Maneklal, and she said she’d also been there the day before. Then when she said she was doing her PhD in ceramics at Sunderland University, and was on a 6 month research trip in different parts of India, I remembered seeing her message in Maneklal’s visitor’s book, the last one before I wrote my message. She was staying at Arts Reverie‘ on an artist’s residency, a place where I had visited last time and met with Barney Hare-Duke, the co-founder in Manchester. To add to the coincidences, I found out a few days later through an e-mail from her and my mum, that our mums, both nurses had met each other in Sheffield around the same time. How bizarre! These coincidences often occurred during my travels and reminded me of the inter-connectedness of the world.

The afternoon was spent visiting Gamthiwala’s the huge block printers and sellers, and shopping in the market.

The problem with trying to do things on your own but whilst staying with a group and wanting to join in on some of their trips, was their constantly changing itinerary. The day after I had visited Pethapur, I had planned to join the group to visit a tie-dye workshop and a remote rabari village. In the morning we got in the car to set off, and I asked what exactly was the plan. ‘We’re going to visit a block-carver in Pethapur this morning’. You can imagine my frustration after the long and complex journey the day before. I decided to go anyway, and we got there in no time in our large MPV. I decided that actually my journey the previous day was an adventure in itself during which I met some interesting people and could experience another side of the Indian transport system.
We didn’t visit Maneklal, but we visited Mukesh, a master block maker and main supplier to the printers in Kutch. He showed us through the process.
The process – Sagwan (teak) wood is used. The older, the better the quality. It is left to dry out for 12 – 15 months . It needs to be completely dry to be able to carve. The block of wood is levelled out with a plain, filed and treated to smooth out the surface. It is then coated with a layer of white poster paint so the design is visible when carved. A grid is drawn on the block and is traced through the paper design onto the wood. the amount of blocks for each design depends on the complexity of the design. The main three are the rekh which is the outline block, the gudh – background and dutta, the fillers of motifs. Designs are sent to the block makers in full colour, and the carvers split the design into each of the above accordingly.

That afternoon there was a long drive out to a village called Samou, further north of Patan, a town I had visited previouslyh to see the famous patola weaving (double ikat weaving). We didn’t have time to stop there though, unfortunately.

Samou is mainly inhabited by Rabaris – a large semi-nomadic cattle-herding community spanning much of Gujarat, Rajasthan, and some areas further south. There are many sub groups each identified by their clothing. All Rabaris don distinctive clothing though. Men wear turbans, and an all white kediyun over white dhotis or pyjama, and women wear heavy black ludis (shawls) over ghaggra and choli along with varying amounts of jewellery depending on their age and marital status.
Our visit was quite a novelty for the village who didn’t appear to receive that many from foreigners. Our Indian counterparts helped translate but they couldn’t always understand the local Gujarati dialect, being quite different from Hindi. So there was a lot of amusement trying to understand each other, and being as in awe of them as they were of us. There were a lot more of them though and we were constantly surrounded by the girls giggling and asking for photos, asking us our name and where we’re from.
It was one of the English students, Hayley’s birthday and both us and the villagers took great delight in dressing her up in their wedding saris. After this it was time to bring the cattle in. Me and Tatenda were at the back of the group as everyone walked to where the cattle were coming in. We were rushed onto a bank and didn’t realise at the time but the reason was that there were about 50 cows charging round the corner. If we were a few seconds later moving we ma have been trampled! It was quite an exciting sight though. I think the shepherds loved showing off their animals.

We were supposed to go and visit an NGO in a nearby village, but we were so exhausted after all the commotion in Samou, that we decided to head back, especially as it was a long drive and we planned to go out for Hayley’s birthday meal.
We went to Rajwadu, a restaurant designed for tourists and to turn a meal into a whole experience, accompanied by puppet shows, music and dancing. It has been designed to appear like a traditional village. The passageways are lit only by candles, drapes of colourful fabric form an entrance tunnel, then you arrive in a courtyard holding shrines, floor paintings and a big ceramic font with floating marigolds. After being welcomed we were lead over a little bridge over a sort of moat, down a few more passageways and into another large courtyard where we were entertained while awaiting our meal.

There was music and dancing, including a lady dancing with a huge pile of pots on her head and a man on a pantomime horse. Then they urged us to join in which the Indian students did enthusiastically and us British reluctantly, but got into it after a while. The Indian boys loved showing off their moves and there was a big dance off between a few of them and a performer. After being sufficiently entertained, we were took to our table. The Indian students had bought Hayley 2 birthday cakes and had them suitable iced to the max saying ‘Happy birthday Hele’! We sang Happy Birthday, she blew out the candles and cut the cake. We ate the cake before the main meal, as is the custom in Gujarat.

Then came dish after dish of tasty traditional Gujarati delights – dokhra, jalebi, kaman and handvo as well as various sabji curries and breads and of course the delicious shreekand (creamy desert flavoured with cardamon and rose). We got suitably full that we could barely move afterwards.  Hayley definitely had a memorable day.

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